Adrian McKinty

Serpents Tail £7.99 pbk

Released: 29 April 2010

Reviewer: L J Hurst


 Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung

On Cuba the police keep the law well, but then there is a lot of law to keep. Officer Mercado is one of the better ones, but she will never be the best: with a father who long ago fled the country she can never be a member of the party, she will never be a member of the ministry forces, she is untrustworthy. Mother is living in a squalor only a little better than the cells in Mercado’s police station. And Mercado is planning to head for the Rocky Mountains via Mexico City.  

Crossing the Rio Grande as a wet back, using a false name, Mercado is on the hunt for the man who killed her father. Death and the threat of it follow her.  

There is another story in Fifty Grand. It is all about paranoia, it is about the proximity of poverty and reality, and the features of life in the modern American West. Crossing in the winter, in one of the newer ski resorts, whose hillsides are covered by the chalets of Hollywood stars and producers, built by wetback labour and served by migrant maids (almost certainly illegals), Mercado takes a job, slipping out at night to investigate. McKinty’s criminal world is close to reality – real names live next door, or just took the roles that leave his characters mourning. Those characters with time on their hands are prime subjects for the drugs – marihuana, cocaine, crystal meth, Ice 9 – that are coming down from the 49th Parallel, distributed by the gang masters, and slipped into and out of the maids’ cleaning baskets. Meanwhile, Mercado wonders who is running who. One of them killed her father.  

A woman who kicks butt, but who can look good in a suit too, McKinty has given himself a strong protagonist. She will never be strong enough, though, to make full sense of this paranoid world. The world of Cuban crime already has its explorers. What McKinty has added is that strong uncertainty, as if he had not only been steeping himself in crime but in science fiction authors such as Philip K Dick and transferred Dick’s A Scanner Darkly to this study of Cuban heat and American and migrant crime today. The combination is hot. No wonder the ending leaves Mercado standing on breaking ice.






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